A new survey from the European Commission and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has found that one-quarter of Europeans lack the digital skills needed to effectively use ICT. The study also highlights Ireland’s lagging performance in literacy and numeracy.
The Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) published its report today.
It involved a survey of literacy, numeracy and problem-solving ICT skills among the working-age population of 17 European Union (EU) member states as well as Norway, the US, Canada, Australia, Japan and South Korea.
This was the first comprehensive international survey of adults skills, and about 5,000 people who were aged 16 to 65 took part.
Addressing digital literacy
In the EU, 25pc of those surveyed were found to lack basic ICT skills, while one in five of those in Spain, Italy, Cyprus, Poland and Slovakia have no computer experience. The Commission’s new ‘Opening up Education’ initiative now plans to address this.
The report also notes a generation gap in terms of skills, which indicates that life-long learning policies must be adopted to sustain skills over time.
It was also discovered that a university degree in the same subject is no guarantee of the same level of skills in different countries.
A ‘low skills trap’
Literacy scores from recent upper secondary-school graduates in the Netherlands and Finland were found to be close to or better than those of higher education graduates in Ireland, Spain, Italy, Cyprus and the UK.
In Ireland, one-fifth of adults were found to have low literacy and numeracy skills. This rate was higher among the unemployed, who are said to be caught in a ‘low skills trap’ due to little or no adult learning.
In numeracy skills, Ireland ranks 19th out of 24 countries.
“All too often we hear people say, ‘I can’t do maths,’ and this leads to the mistaken belief that you have to be hardwired to do well at maths. While not everyone can become a top mathematician, many could learn to enjoy maths if we break the ‘cycle of fear’ associated with the subject,” said Eoin Gill, co-ordinator of Maths Week Ireland, which kicked off last weekend.
The PIAAC report claims that Ireland is not making the best economic use of its skilled workforce. That’s because one in four of those surveyed who displayed high levels of proficiency in literacy and numeracy were outside the workforce.
There’s also a bigger earnings gap in Ireland between low-skilled and highly skilled workers, compared to a number of other countries.
Investing in education
On the back of this report, the Commission has highlighted the need for investment in education and training and both EU and national level.
"I urge member states to make better use of the European Social Fund to invest in skills and training, both for the young unemployed and for the life-long learning of middle-aged and older workers," said László Andor, European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion.
The Commission and OECD also plan to launch a new education and skills online assessment tool this autumn, to allow people to test their skills and benchmark their own abilities in an international context.
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